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Soheila Helal

Soheila HelalSoheila Helal — In the walled garden of her house, Soheila Helal waged a quite rebellion against the Taliban. On a patio softened by rugs and book-ended by two small blackboards, she ran a school of 120 students, mostly girls. It was a transgression on two counts: as a woman Mrs. Helal was not supposed to work, and her female students were not supposed to learn.

So her student’s lessons included what to tell any Taliban forces who stopped them – that they were just going to visit her. The after school activities included learning how to leave discreetly in small groups, so as not to attract attention.

Mr. Helal, a teacher for 17 years saw no other choice. Her husband died as the Taliban came to power, leaving her with three small children to support. She says that continuing to teach also kept her sane.

“I though of killing myself many times”, she said of life under the Taliban. As a woman she was not supposed to leave home without a male relative; as a widow she had no choice. Buying groceries could bring a beating from the religious police. “Only my love for my students saved me”.

That love no longer need to be hidden behind an adobe wall. The school where Mrs. Helal worked before the Taliban came to power is reopening now that they are gone from Herat and much of Afghanistan. In areas now controlled by the Northern Alliance, the pretty brutality that woman endured for nearly a half decade has ended.

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